Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chayei Sara
To dedicate this lesson

Yitzchak as the continuation of his mother Sarah's life


Rabbi Berel Wein

This week’s parsha represents the constant human drama of death and renewal, of grieving over what has been irretrievably lost and soldiering on to make life productive and meaningful. To Avraham the husband, Sarah is irreplaceable. He remarries and has many children from that union but he is constantly reminded of God’s statement that only through Yitzchak, the son of Sarah, is he guaranteed continuity of his ideas and values and immortality.

Sarah will live on only through Yitzchak, and Avraham realizes that his future is also dependent solely on Sarah’s immortality. Perhaps that is why the parsha is entitled Chayei Sarah - the life of Sarah - when the parsha deals apparently only with the death of Sarah and the life of Yitzchak. For it is the life, so to speak, of Sarah after her death, that she still lives on through her son Yitzchak that is the centerpiece of the parsha.

There is a basic human drive within all of us that reflects itself in our wanting to be remembered after we are no longer alive on this earth. I saw once the most poignant tombstone inscription I ever read over the grave of a young woman who died in her twenties. It simply stated: "Please don’t forget me."

Avraham weeps and grieves and eulogizes his beloved Sarah. But he cannot guarantee her memory will be part of the Jewish experience. Only Yitzchak can do that and that is why the bulk of the parsha then describes the effort to find for a proper mate for Yitzchak that will validate Sarah’s heritage and values. Avraham’s true eulogy for Sarah lies in helping Yitzchak reestablish Sarah’s tent and life mission.

Rashi points out the well-known Midrash that when Rivkah entered the tent of Sarah, all of the spiritual greatness that was present in Sarah’s tent and disappeared at the time of her death reappeared with the entry of Rivkah into Yitzchak’s life.

Sarah is truly irreplaceable but her continuity is assured because of Yitzchak and Rivkah. No human being is truly replaceable but no human being is indispensable to the continuity of God’s mission and work on this earth. The next generation is always charged with building upon the legacy that it received from previous generations. Its task is not only that it should create a society that will remember it but that that society will also remember all of the previous generations that preceded it.

Yitzchak and Rivkah will be remembered eternally only if through them Avraham and Sarah are also remembered and preserved. This concept is undoubtedly the source of the Ashkenazic custom of naming new born children after their deceased ancestors. The new baby is immediately challenged to represent and remember, so to speak, the past generation that has departed.

The parsha describes for us the life of Yitzchak but it is entitled Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, for only in Yitzchak’s life does Sarah truly live on. Thus every Jewish home that carries forth the traditions of Jewish life and values is transformed into the tent of our eternal mother Sarah
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